An Appreciation of Todd Haynes

With the news that famed, auteur director Todd Haynes will be doing a biopic on The Velvet Underground I feel it is the right time to spotlight his particular brand of brilliance and eccentricities.

Todd Haynes burst onto the scene with his controversial short film, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story. It told the tragic tale of Karen Carpenter, the musician whose life was cut short by complications due to her anorexia. The film famously used Barbie dolls in the stead of actors, a literal interpretation of the physical effects of her eating disorder. This now cult classic established Todd Haynes as a fearless visionary, unafraid of shocking the public.

His feature length directorial debut was the epic Poison, which explored the stigmas and attitudes toward AIDs and its effect on the queer community. This three-part film cemented his place in progressive and new queer sub-genre of cinema. Poison played at the Sundance Film Festival where it won a Grand Jury Prize. Safe was his next film, and it was also met with positive critical acclaim. It was also his first film featuring Julianne Moore, it would not be the last.

His next feature, Velvet Goldmine, strikes me as being very important, simply because this film showcases his appreciation and fascination with musicians and their craft. Velvet Goldmine drew on the glam rock movement of the 1970’s an era that is as fascinating as it is dirty and sexy. It followed fictional rocker Brian Slade, played by a devilishly coquettish Jonathan Rhys Meyers and his tumultuous professional and personal life. It was in your face and did not ask for any apologies. Haynes incoporated storylines that paralleled with Oscar Wilde’s poetry. It also mirrored the investigative journalism “who-dun-it” storyline from one of the greatest films of all time, Citizen Kane. I mean is there anything that Haynes didn’t try to tie into the film? No, not much.

Haynes did not stop pressing the envelope there, his 2002 film Far From Heaven might have been his most mainstream and critical success. It deals with a complicated storyline of a taboo love affair in the 1950s. It was nominated for four Academy Awards. (It was also another star vehicle for Julianne Moore). Clearly Haynes was perfecting his work with period films and again demonstrated great delicacy and care with queer storylines. Haynes was developing his distinct tone, perfecting his method of storytelling, and showing his deftness at queer cinema.

Haynes’ next film, the non-linear biopic of Bob Dylan expanded his scope even further. I’m Not There was his most existential, art cinema work yet. It portrayed the multifaceted public personalities of Bob Dylan; the poet, the prophet, the outlaw, star of electricity, the rock n’ roll martyr and the born again Christian. It was positively reviewed, although some thought its complexity got in its own way. I enjoyed the film as a form of expressing the importance of Dylan’s music and what his songs represent. It earned Cate Blanchett an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Dylan in his martyr phase. In the tradition of another Haynes’ leading lady, Julianne Moore, Blanchett earned a Volpi Cup for Best Actress.

In 2011 Haynes co-wrote and directed Mildred Pierce, an HBO mini-series starring Kate Winslet, which got an impressive 21 Emmy nominations (Winslet won Best Actress). Just by reading this you can tell that Haynes knows how to write an incredibly complex and strong part for women. The names alone are a testament to his skill. Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet, Toni Collette, and Rooney Mara have all been met with critical acclaim for their performances in Haynes’ projects. His most recent film, Carol, was another period piece, this one dealing with a love affair between two women, played brilliantly by Blanchett and Mara,  from different stations in life. The film was met with universal critical acclaim, and the fact that it did not get nominated for best picture is still a point of contention.

Haynes’ seventh featutre film is his recently announced untitled biopic about the new wave band Velvet Underground. I am very excited to see what innovative and unpredictable tactics Haynes has in store for this film. The Velvet Underground (with acclaimed frontman Lou Reed!) were and extremely important band for their time and beyond, as they are cited as inspiration for many musical legends and bands such as David Bowie, Patti Smith, and an entire new generation of musicians like The Killers and more to come, such was their legacy. And Haynes is definitely the man to bring that rock legend to the silver screen.

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